Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. France/Denmark/USA, 2016. Space Rocket Nation, Vendian Entertainment, Bold Films, Danish Broadcsting Corporation, MEDIA Programme of the European Union, Wild Bunch. Story by Nicolas Winding Refn, Screenplay by Nicolas Winding Refn, Mary Laws, Polly Stenham. Cinematography by Natasha Braier. Produced by Lena Borglum, Sidonie Dumas, Vincent Maraval, Nicolas Winding Refn. Music by Cliff Martinez. Production Design by Elliott Hostetter. Costume Design by Erin Benach. Film Editing by Matthew Newman. Cannes Film Festival Awards 2016. Washington Film Critics Awards 2016.
Young and inexperienced but not naive, Elle Fanning comes to L.A. to be a model and is immediately on her way to the top of the game, loved by photographers and agents and plucked from obscurity for her first big runway show the minute she shows up to be tested. A makeup artist (Jena Malone) she meets at an early photo shoot is keen to get to know her, a photographer has genuine feelings for her, and the surly manager of her motel (Keanu Reeves) sees her as dangerous jailbait, but these challenges are nothing compared to the rivalry that she inspires in two professional models (Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee) who see her as a threat to their very survival. Nicolas Winding Refn applies the unapologetic viciousness of his style to the world of fashion and comes up with something whose glacial pace is well suited to the perfection of his imaginative imagery. Beginning with one of the most stunning opening sequences in recent memory and frequently indulging in marvelously baroque views of modeling, Refn succeeds greatly at creating an atmosphere worth being sunk in to and guided by a protagonist who is appealing for being vulnerable but not necessarily helpless. Where he falters is in putting together a plot whose deliberate rate of motion implies far more intensity and depth than is actually there, invoking themes that Refn treats like no one ever thought of them before (disillusionment in L.A. show biz? Really?) and treating the whole thing with far less humour than it deserves: bitchy supermodels whose obsession reaches almost vampiric levels, lesbian predators, arch symbolism involving wild cats, these are old tropes and to involve them without realizing they’re funny makes for a long haul to the finish line. It’s a lot of effort dressed up around something dissatisfying and shallow, building to a climax that does not pay off and mostly obscure instead of mysterious, but it does have moments that soar, and Fanning commands the lead with exceptional skill both visually and emotionally.